Wine has been around for thousands of years, and yet each year the fruit of the vine still offers new variations to appreciate and explore. To kick off the New Year, FSR checked in with James Beard Award–winning sommelier, Belinda Chang, and the master sommelier at Palms Casino Resort’s Vetri Cucina, Justin Moore, for a bit of beverage forecasting. Per our experts, be ready for pink port, cabernet franc, falanghina, and wine lists that are less showy and more guest-focused.
Predicting the next rosé phenomenon might be a tall order, but Chang is betting on lesser-known varietals from popular wine-producing countries such as Italy.
“I love falanghina from Southern Italy, and bianchetta Genovese, an indigenous grape from Liguria [region of Northern Italy], which is absolutely perfect for pesto or anything fried,” Chang says, adding that are far more people informed about Italian wine than they were in decades past. “Now is a good time to take advantage of that curiosity.”
Moore likes the outlook for cabernet franc, which is one of the two halves that forms the more common cabernet sauvignon (the other half being sauvignon blanc). Although the grape’s origins can be traced to the southwest of France, other countries including European neighbors and regions much farther afield are exploring the varietal.
“[Cabernet franc] is already making some of the best quality-to-value ‘super Tuscans,’” Moore says, with the term super Tuscans referring to red blends produced in Tuscany using non-indigenous grapes, including cabernet franc. “As things warm up globally, other regions are embracing or redefining its style,” he adds.
But restaurants shouldn’t overlook Chile as a source for great-value wines. Even if the country doesn’t generate the same reverence among sommeliers as French or Italian varietals do, Moore says it produces top-quality wines at every price level. Chile’s cabernet franc and other varietals are mineral-driven thanks to the unique terroir—and free of pests, like the phylloxera insect that plagues European vineyards.
“Some somms think Chile is not so ‘cool,’ but … producers like Viña von Siebenthal will inspire anyone who is paying attention,” Moore says.
In divining trends, Chang follows consumer travel patterns, taking note of the places where people are traveling and then gleaning insights from the wine regions of those popular destinations. Currently, Portugal is at the top of her watchlist.
“People are visiting in droves, and they want to bring the experience home, which is why port is so hot right now, especially pink port and white port,” Chang says. She suggests serving pink port slightly chilled as an aperitif wine. “It’s perfect with mixed nuts, cheeses, and charcuterie. Plus, because these are ports, they will last for a few weeks behind the bar,” she adds.
Port grapes also make incredible still wines at prices that are very attainable. Chang points to touriga nacional and tinta roriz (the latter being the Portuguese equivalent to Spanish tempranillo) as varietals that will dominate in 2020.
Despite Americans paying closer attention to the wine world, many, despite impressive quality, are still overlooked. Moore thinks white wines such as Austrian grüner veltliner and Oregon chardonnay deserve some love in 2020.
“Oregon chardonnay especially is starting to find its voice for white wines. Walter Scott Wines and Lingua Franca in particular are setting the bar while building a bridge for the Old World–New World style and for the classics,” Moore says. He also advises stocking up on Chianti classico. “The quality has never been better.”
Beyond stocking a cellar full of quality wine, Chang and Moore think the one area that restaurants could stand to improve the most is crafting a strong wine list—specifically one that entices the guest to actually order wine rather than shows off the restaurant’s collection. Chang is eager to see the exotic—and, in some cases, pompous—wine lists become more balanced.
“I want to fight for the classics in 2020. There are many wine lists in the U.S. that are making people over 25 angry rather than comfortable,” she says. “The goal of hospitality is to make people feel loved, comfortable, and cared for. When you write a super-weird wine list with wines most of us have never heard of, you are making the guest uncomfortable and missing an opportunity.”
Moore echoes that sentiment, arguing the sommelier ego needs to be toned down as well. “We exist to serve and create lifelong memories of joyful, special occasions,” he says. “It’s not about how cool, rare, or expensive something is. It’s not about your allocation or fancy new suit. It’s about the guest.”